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This week's devastating IPCC report has brought the imminent impacts of climate change, and how far we are from meeting our targets to stop them, in sharp focus.
We Earthlings have had to swallow some difficult truths lately. The imminent impacts of climate change, and how far we are from meeting our goals to stop them, have been clearly focused not only on major intergovernmental reports but also on the myriad of dramatic weather events around the world.
It can be easy to feel hopeless, like we can't do anything to stop our species from destroying the planet as we know it in less than a generation. But there is a group of people who think they have the answer, and if everyone joined in, they could easily curb the effects of climate change. It's called ecosocialism and it's exactly as radical as it sounds.
"Ecosocialism combines the ideas of ecology and socialism, which means that you have a society without class divisions that lives in some kind of harmony or balance with nature," said Victor Wallis, author of Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism. Me in a phone interview. "You cannot make decisions necessary for the health of the environment on the basis of profit calculations."
Ecosocialism began to spread in the 1980s alongside environmentalism, although some scholars argue that the roots of this movement can be traced back to the theories of Karl Marx. The concept is basically that environmental protection is incompatible with capitalism, and the best (or, some would say, only) way to combat climate change is to move towards a socialist society. Capitalism is always going to be driven to produce and consume more and more, which is a big part of how we got into this mess to begin with.
Although supporters of the movement have trouble disentangling the two ideologies, the overlap may not be apparent to everyone. After all, there are benefits to be gained from fighting climate change - think renewables or electric cars. These industries don't exist because of some corporate altruism, they exist because they are profitable. And they're growing rapidly: In 2017, more than 500,000 new renewable energy jobs were created worldwide, bringing the total number of people employed in the sector to 10 million, and $ 335.5 billion of new investments in the industry.
But ecosocialists argue that even if some parts of capitalism can promote an environmental agenda, the rest of the market will continue to act against it, and we will never get where we need to be.
"Unless you eliminate capitalism, you will continue to have other companies that are much more influential and larger in scale, like the oil companies," Wallis said. "Ultimately, there is a clash in the larger scheme of things, even if you have a sector of a capitalist market that responds to people's concerns about the environment."
The other aspect of socialism that Wallis says blends well with environmentalism is leveling the playing field. You may not like that your coal mine job contributes to climate change, but you still need to feed your family and pay your bills. If we could flatten class structures so that was no longer a concern, more people could be involved in the changes we need to make.
But what does an eco-socialist society look like? Do we all live together on vertical farms, sharing crops and riding bikes to power our light bulbs? Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist, reporter, and eco-socialist, told me that it doesn't have to be such a dramatic change.
"It's not going to require everyone to give up their possessions and live on a farm for the rest of their lives," Holthaus said in a telephone interview.
Holthaus argues that we have the technology to rapidly shift to a world running on carbon-free energy, but that will not happen in the current structure because it does not benefit those already at the top. He pointed to the fact that studies have shown that only 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. If we create a government willing to strictly regulate these companies, it would have a drastic impact and open the doors to a clean energy future.
All of this sounds great, but it also sounds impossible, especially under the current US administration that denies climate change. It doesn't seem likely that we can make such a massive global change in enough time to slow this runaway train of destruction. Although Wallis largely agreed, saying that while highly unlikely, it is "our only option," Holthaus was a bit more optimistic.
"Think back to 30 years ago: 1988 was a very different world," he said. “The example that I always bring back is gay marriage. At one point, it felt impossible. It felt like a problem that we would never change. But with many people working behind the scenes and very publicly for decades, the political world changed in just a few years. "
Holthaus believes that we can see similar changes with climate change, as more people realize the extreme situations that we are all in and decide, we would like to stay on this planet for a while.
And it is not just a fringe movement. The US Green Party has embraced ecosocialism as a central tenant of its platform since 2016. Democratic socialism has seen a surge in popularity this year, including the election of Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who toppled to a 10-term incumbent for a congressional seat in New York this summer. The organization of the Democratic Socialists of America also adopted the philosophy of ecosocialism and has a task force on ecosocialism.
It also reaches beyond the United States. In the UK, Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been an outspoken advocate of an ecosocialist approach to climate change.
Regardless of how strongly you subscribe to the notion of ecosocialism, both Holthaus and Wallis recommended getting out there and being active. Find like-minded people, groups and political parties, get organized, and start living in a way that facilitates this type of transition. While it may not be a panacea, at this stage of the game I'm happy to explore any ideas that people think would help us.
"I believe it is possible to have the world that we want and the world that we need," Holthaus said. "I want to believe that is true."